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30 August 2006

Vleeptron scrapbook: profoundly satisfying adult happiness with High Explosives

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The Web is lousy with images of the fantastic wonderful swellagent megastructure amazing New Bridge,and there's even a Discovery Channel documentary all about the New Bridge. Hooray for the New Bridge.

To several million commuters in the Washington DC area for decades, the hell with the wonderful New Bridge. This moment is all about the Old Bridge. And what they've dreamt about doing to it.

* * *

The Washington Post (Washington DC USA)
Thursday 24 August 2006
Page A1

A Tough Trip to
a Blast on the Bridge

Long-Suffering Commuter Wins Right to Raze Span

by Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer

The Wilson Bridge commute that was officially declared the worst ever starts each day at 5 a.m. at the Accokeek home of Daniel G. Ruefly. Somewhere around 90 minutes later, depending on about a thousand things on his 50-mile drive from Maryland to Virginia and back, he gets to his job in Rockville.

He said he's been doing this every workday for the past 30 years.

That means he's been in his car in the neighborhood of 1,350,000 minutes. Which is about 22,500 hours. Which is like 937 days. Which is 2.56 years.

Which is a lot.

As if that's not enough, it's painful for Ruefly to sit still for so long, because driving aggravates the hip injury he suffered when his pickup truck slammed into the back of an illegally parked tractor-trailer on the bridge in 1999.

Want more? The injury was made worse when the ambulance taking him to the hospital was stuck for more than 30 minutes waiting for the drawbridge to lower.

All the pain Ruefly has suffered won him top honors yesterday in the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project's "toughest bridge commute" contest. His reward comes Monday at 11:59 p.m., when he gets to push the plunger that will blow up part of the old bridge that made him suffer so.

"It's not unbearable. It's something I've got to live with," a stoic Ruefly, 53, said of his commute. "It's time [for the bridge] to be replaced, and I'm honored to be the one selected to push the plunger."

Bridge officials said a panel of five traffic reporters selected Ruefly out of 312 people who wrote essays sharing their tales of woe because of all the years he's been navigating the bridge and because of his hip injury.

"The story Mr. Ruefly told was the most wonderful-terrible story we heard," said John Undeland, spokesman for the $2,400,000,000 construction project. "He has lived the Wilson Bridge for more than half his life. We can think of nobody better to end the Wilson Bridge."

Ruefly will trigger explosives that will take down a portion of the old bridge that stands over Jones Point Park on the Virginia shore. The span, which opened in 1961, was closed last month when a new six-lane bridge opened. A second six-lane bridge, which will be built where the old one now stands, is planned to open in the summer of 2008.

The hundreds of entrants recalled some of the worst days in the bridge's 45-year history. There was the time a tractor-trailer carrying livestock crashed and several horses went loose, their tails streaming behind them as they galloped past the stuck cars.

Others recalled the terrible snowstorm of 1987 when drivers were trapped on the bridge overnight, slowly watching their gas tanks drain to empty.

Many mentioned the "Day of the Jumper" in 1999, when a suicidal man threw himself over the side after a seven-hour standoff with police froze the region's traffic -- and survived.

Stuart Roy, an aide to then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), was selected as one of five finalists because he was almost speared by an errant pitchfork that fell off a dump truck in 2003, shattering his windshield. He escaped without a scratch.

"The reason I married my husband is because he is a mechanic. ... He replaces my brakes every six months because of all the stop-and-go traffic I am in," said another finalist, Elissa Soares, 53, a Waldorf resident who has been braving the bridge for 23 years.

Runner-up Tom Pettin -- 62, a Fairfax County resident and U.S. Coast Guard analyst who commutes to the District -- called the bridge "a monster that has been tormenting me since 1962."

Ruefly said he was shocked by his dubious honor, which came after he was nominated by his daughter, Tiffanie, 22, a recent University of Maryland graduate. She wrote in her nomination that after spending several traumatic months recovering from his hip injury it would give her father "GREAT pleasure to blow up that bridge!!"

Even with it all, Ruefly said, he never once considered moving from the area where he was born. The electrical contractor said he rarely strays from his usual route, which starts most mornings in darkness and with a large coffee.

The drive goes like this: north on Route 210 to the Capital Beltway and over the bridge, onto Route 1 for a block, then Washington Street, which turns into the George Washington Memorial Parkway, back to the Beltway, across the American Legion Bridge to I-270 and onto Falls Road in Rockville.

If he waits too long to depart, say until 6 a.m., he ends up in a snarl of traffic on the Beltway that can delay his journey by hours.

Ruefly has tried non-bridge routes, such as swinging around the Maryland side of the Beltway to I-270 or taking I-295 into the city to I-395 to the George Washington Parkway, but he said they're no better.

"It's better to wait the bridge out," he said.

Ruefly said he's not sure how he will feel Monday evening as he stands before the nearly half-mile stretch of rusted steel girders that he will help destroy. Carefully placed charges will cut the 2,600 tons of steel as the bridge collapses with a flash of light and a loud kaboom that bridge officials say will be similar to a thunderclap.

"That's hard to say right now," Ruefly said. "I don't hate the bridge. It did a lot for this area."

He was there when the bridge opened back in 1961, he said, so it'll be good to see it when it goes.

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Travis said...

I went to school with Tiffanie. Besides this, does any one else know what she's up to now?

Bob Merkin said...

Yo Travis! Welcome to Vleeptron!

You should have guessed that I was born and raised in DC, and before I drifted away, had many thrilling crossings of this verdammt vile bridge.

What high school? (I'm Woodrow Wilson class of 1965! Go Tigers!)

If I was gonna try to track Tiffanie down, I'd start web surfing and phoning the University of Maryland, from which she's a recent graduate. If you do 4 years at a big university, you tend to leave tracks and clues and hints.

If you find her, please say Hi to her and her Dad for me. He's my Hero, the Luckiest Guy in greater Washington DC.